Are the United Nations capable of dealing with major humanitarian crisis?
The situation in Syria
The Syrian refugee question seems to be cementing itself as one of the biggest humanitarian crisis of the century. With four million refugees already having left the country, and twelve million more requiring assistance inside of Syria, the future does seem rather bleak.
Understanding the refugee crisis however, requires a brief reminder of the situation in Syria to grasp just how chaotic it became.
The mass movement of the Syrian civilian population is a result of the civil war ignited in 2011 when peaceful anti-government protests were brutally suppressed. A group of teenagers were arrested and tortured for drawing revolutionary slogans on a school wall which triggered civil unrest in already high-tension regions. This unrest grew into nationwide protest aiming for President Assad’s resignation. The government’s answer was crushing protesters with ruthless violence. In turn, the opposition took to arms and the country descended into full on civil war as firefights erupted in the streets.
This was only the beginning of what would evolve into a worrying international conflict: in 2013 the use of chemical weapons led to the involvement of Russia and the United States. In 2016 a new threat arose when the terrorist group ISIS invaded north-western Syria, the conflict thus escalated further as the US launched airstrikes on major Syrian positions, and Russia sent ground troops to intervene. It gets worse. Kurdish rebels also entered the fight alongside the United States to vanquish ISIS. We quickly see how chaotic it has become: Syrian government troops are fighting opposition troops, Kurdish rebels (who are also fighting Turkish forces) and ISIS fighters (also in combat against the Kurds). All with heavy intervention from Russia, Turkey and the US.
It’s almost impossible to know who is who in these circumstances, what we do know however, is that the civilian death toll has been atrocious.
The United Nations have evidence that all parties have committed war crimes against civilian populations such as rape, murder, torture, purposely blocking access to food, water and health as leverage…
Rockets filled with with sarin (a nerve agent 500x more potent than cyanide) have been fired in areas with high concentration of civilians.
The awful truth is that civilians are caught in the crossfire of a horrible conflict, which has made Syria hell on earth for those trying to survive. Refugees have reported being unable to leave their home due to stray bullets whistling past for hours on end. Children are now scared of blue skies and sunny days: drones don’t fly in bad weather, a clear sky means the bombs will come back.
There have been over half a million deaths since the beginning of the conflict. This is why the United Nations now face a humanitarian and refugee crisis.
However, if the situation in Syria has done anything, it’s outline the inefficiency and weakness of the United Nations. Indeed, they brokered a ceasefire in 2016 which fell through after only a few short months. This was the first of many attempts, none of which have been successful. The most recent example took place in February 2018, when the UN Security council called for a 30-day ceasefire to allow civilians to leave the region of Ghouta, home for 400 000 people, and one of the most aggressive and largest offensive in Syria led by government troops and Russian aircrafts. Yet, it never happened. The fighting kept going and violence continued, showing once more the UN are incapable of enforcing their policies in war torn areas.
So where do these refugees go? Well, most of them in neighbouring countries. Lebanon took in one million refugees, Turkey almost two million, and Jordan about six hundred thousand. Some however try to push forward inland to reach Europe, and it gets complicated. For many European countries, the general consensus is that an influx of refugees is bad news. Most are building metaphorical fences by strengthening border control and asylum applications. Then there is Hungary building a literal 175km fence to keep people out.
The absolute leader of taking in refugees is still Germany, as estimates hint at 800 000 new entries just this year, and with relatively open arms. Still, 800 000 people only represents 40% of those that wish to enter the country, showing the extent of the crisis upon these European powers.
Attitudes do seem to be changing though, for better and for worse. In Britain, photos showing the sufferings in Syria are leading to a general acceptance in the population, as a wave of sympathy rolls through, meanwhile Germany will soon discuss and vote on a proposal that aims to forcibly repatriate Syrian refugees when their asylum status ends, effective as early as June. While it seems unlikely that the proposition passes in this climate, it offers a view into the future as we can only wonder, how will European powers and the United Nations deal with the crisis.
- by Andre LOPEZ